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Tampa's plodding path to 'walkability'

We've listened to ideals of Tampa becoming this city where we walk to our favorite restaurants, take streetcars to work and catch buses to the grocery store, where kids ride their bikes to school again.

It all sounds so wonderful, on so many fronts.

The less we depend on our four-doors, the better for our budgets in a pitiful economy where gas could soon reach $4 a gallon, and the better for the environment. (After all, Tuesday is Earth Day.)

The more we walk and ride bikes, the more exercise we get and, conceivably, the fewer pounds we pack at a time when being overweight has become synonymous with being American. (May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, by the way.)

But is Tampa really becoming the walkable city that officials and developers tell us it is?

I know. Right now, you're wondering if "walkable" is really a word. The dictionary says it is — although it's about as usable in everyday speech as "sustainable community" and "urban design."

Get used to it, though.

These terms are heavy on the lips of developers, of government officials and experts determined to take us back to the era of the real "neighborhood" with businesses just outside our front doors.

But they acknowledge what those of us who live here already know: Tampa is not very walkable at all — at least not yet.

In December, the St. Petersburg Times reported on a national survey of 30 major metropolitan areas that ranked the Tampa Bay area dead last for walkability.

A few of you have commented in City Times articles or written to us about the risks of walking and biking in Tampa, which is partly why we came up with this special issue.

I recall an e-mail from Lisa DeVitto, president of the Davis Islands Civic Association, who wrote that her aerobics instructor was hit while riding a bike and that the mother of a teenager killed recently while crossing Dale Mabry had contacted DeVitto.

At the same time, grass roots advocates for bike commuting and for transforming Tampa's landscape were touting initiatives to encourage alternate ways of getting around.

And with road construction causing routine traffic jams on Interstate 275 and Gandy Boulevard, for instance, some people are more open than ever to new ideas.

If you're paying attention, you'll see evidence of a changing mind-set. Bike lanes and bus bays are being added as roads are repaved and reconstructed. Plans for more walking and biking trails are in the works. Groups are meeting to help position the city for light rail and commuter rail years down the road.

Tampa is still far behind cities like Washington, D.C., Boston and even St. Petersburg, which the League of American Bicyclists gave an award last year for being a "bicycle-friendly community."

But in this issue, you'll find stories about the people behind local initiatives and get a glimpse of past efforts that failed miserably. You'll read about your neighbors finding inventive ways to get around these days, and you'll hear from an officer who says many pedestrian and bike accidents are caused, not by drivers, but by the bikers and pedestrians themselves.

We know we can't cover everything in these few pages, however, so we'd like to hear from you. Call or write. Let us know what you think of this issue and what topics you feel we've missed.

With so much change occurring, this won't be the last of our coverage concerning alternative travel issues, but rather just the beginning.

Sharon Tubbs is the City Times editor and can be reached at (813) 226-3394 or citytimes@sptimes.com.

Tampa's plodding path to 'walkability' 04/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2008 4:31am]
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